MLB Network Pencils Phantom Cam, Statcast Into ALDS Lineup
For the fourth consecutive year, two games of the Major League Baseball Playoffs will air on the league’s year-round home: MLB Network. And MLB Network is pulling out all the stops — high-speed cameras, a wealth of production tools, enhanced audio — to deliver every crack of the bat, slide into first, and umpire call.
“Every year, we’ve tried to [figure out] what’s a better way to document the game, what’s a better way to entertain viewers or inform viewers,” says Chris Pfeiffer, senior coordinating producer, live events, MLB Network. “Every year, we’ve taken some pretty good steps.”
MLB Network begins its postseason slate today with Game 2 of the American League Division Series, featuring the Texas Rangers at the Toronto Blue Jays. As it has done in the past, MLB Network will work out of Fox Sports’ production truck (Game Creek Dynasty) and rely on Fox’s camera complement at Rogers Centre: eight hard cameras, an RF handheld, three robotic cameras, a Grass Valley 6X super-slow-motion camera, and Inertia Unlimited’s X-Mo and Dirtcam.
For this postseason, MLB Network has added two Inertia Unlimited X-Mo Phantom cameras at low first and low third.
“We always work very closely with Fox; we have a great relationship with them,” says Susan Stone, SVP, operations and engineering, MLB Network. “We partner with them on what their equipment levels are, and then we supplement with certain specialty items that are really important for our philosophy of coverage.”
MLB Network will also cover Game 3 of the ALDS between the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros on Sunday. The network will once again deploy two Phantom cameras to supplement Fox’s onsite equipment in Houston. According to MLB Network VP, Remote Operations, Tom Guidice, the crew will have access to an additional RF handheld and a Freefly MōVI three-axis-gyro-stabilized camera at Minute Maid Park; Dirtcam will not be used. For Game 3, MLB Network will operate out of Game Creek’s Apollo and Edit 1 units.
Visualizing the Stats, Hearing the Bats
In both Toronto and Houston, MLB Network will deploy two additional cameras for Statcast, MLB Advanced Media’s real-time tracking technology powered by Amazon Web Services. Statcast, unveiled at the beginning of this season, will make its postseason debut today.
“We’re pretty excited about using it during the playoffs,” says Pfeiffer. “The announcers get pretty excited on how it can tell a story, and we’ve been pretty aggressive with that. I think everybody’s looking forward to using it for Friday and Sunday.”
MLB Network will also deploy its innovative real-time defensive-alignment graphic Shift Trax and PITCHf/x, to provide live and in-depth metrics about every play.
“[Shift Trax] is a way for the viewers — since it’s up on the screen 90% of the time — to look up there any time they want,” explains Pfeiffer. “Teams are shifting almost every player in every situation, depending on what the count is. There’s a lot of action going on defensively, and, with Shift Trax, you can watch that happening in real time.”
Looking for a way to further enhance the audio experience, MLB Network will place microphones in each base, a decision that not only adds to the overall experience but can help on a close play. The umpire will again be miked, and all audio recorded from on-field microphones will be recorded and played back.
“Miking the bases gives you the enhanced sounds of the game, the sounds around the plate,” says Stone. “If somebody’s sliding into a base, it just gives so much more depth and dimension to the telecast and really adds to the viewer experience.”
A Memorable Open Once More
MLB Network will also unveil a new postseason-show opening. Following the success of its Emmy Award-winning opens in 2012 (“The Scrapbook”) and 2014 (“Hall of Heroes”) and Emmy-nominated open in 2013 (“A Field of Dreams”), MLB Network worked with Reveal42 and Creative Director Miguel Oldenburg to create a new concept, in which Little Leaguers transform into Major League athletes.
Because of the short time frame, the network also leaned heavily on animations created by MLB.com.
“These kinds of opens you can’t build three or four months in advance, because you need to know what teams are going to be involved,” says Pfeiffer. “The process really starts the first week in September, so it’s a pretty quick turnaround. We’re coming down the home stretch, so we’re excited about that.”
Secaucus Gets in on the Action
While MLB Network is on the road in Toronto and Houston, the remote operation will have the full force of its Secaucus, NJ-based headquarters for support, including two edit suites, graphics operators, EVS servers, and more.
After the games are over, MLB Network will continue to surround the postseason with nearly 200 hours of live coverage: game previews, highlights, analysis, interviews, and press conferences across all studio programming. MLB Tonight will air before and after every postseason game, including the World Series, onsite at each ballpark.
“It’s always great for us to have exclusive content on our air. For us, [the ALDS] is our World Series,” says Stone. “We dedicate 100% of our effort, and everybody behind the scenes in Secaucus as well as on the road has totally bought in and is totally behind putting the best possible production on the air.”